Text & Illustrations: Why Pictures Really Are Worth A Thousand Words
We’ve all heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but have you ever thought about how this applies to literature? Looking at it from that angle, this old, familiar cliche gains a whole new meaning!
When a book has high-quality illustrations they have the power to add a ton of rich details about the characters and setting, set the mood or tone of the story, and provide insight into what characters are feeling. We have to teach our students how to tap into this valuable strategy while reading!
There are some specific things you should teach students about this strategy, and you definitely have to pick the right mentor text. Keep reading for my top tips on how to teach the connection between text and illustrations, how to choose a great mentor text, and for a list of a few of my favorites books to use!
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Using illustrations to understand the story is something that kids do instinctively, their eyes are naturally drawn to the bright, colorful illustrations found in most picture books.
While most students will check out a story’s illustrations without prompting, they still need to be taught what specifically to look for, and how to explain the connection between the text and illustrations.
The most common ways that illustrations can enhance a story are:
- To show what is happening in the story
- Providing extra details about setting and characters
- Setting the mood or tone of the story- how does the author want you to feel while reading this story?
You will want to show students several examples of each, so students get a feel for how the illustrations do this.
Choosing A Good Mentor Text
In order for students to understand this strategy, you will need to choose good mentor texts. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a mentor text for this reading strategy:
- Not all books are illustrated equally! You have to be a bit picky when looking for a mentor text to use with this strategy.
- Be sure that the text has high-quality illustrations that are visually appealing.
- Illustrations that convey a specific mood or tone.
- Look for characters that express clear emotions.
- The illustrations should support what the words say, not conflict (believe it or not, this does happen sometimes!)
Favorite Mentor Texts
To make it a little easier for you, here are a few of my favorite mentor texts for teaching this skill. All of these books have engaging illustrations that support and add details to the story.
This book has beautiful illustrations that evoke tons of emotion. The story has a sad, melancholy tone, which is perfectly conveyed through the illustrations.
This story is a little silly and has the illustrations to match. There is a lot of movement and emotion in each illustration, which helps the reader understand what is happening and how the characters feel about it!
Too Many Toys by David Shannon
Spencer has way too many toys! This story brings to life a problem that lots of students will be able to identify with. The characters are wonderfully expressive, and the chaotic nature of the story is beautifully conveyed through the illustrations.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
This sweet story about a little girl’s unshakeable confidence contains illustrations that add tons of details to the story. Through the warm, colorful illustrations, we learn all of the ways that Molly Lou
One of the great things about this strategy is that it’s super easy to keep returning to it throughout the year. A lot of books that you will use as quality mentor texts for other strategies ALSO have great illustrations.
With just about any mentor text that you use throughout the year, you can easily take a few minutes to review this standard and discuss how the illustrations support the text.
Need More Practice?
Using mentor texts is the perfect way to teach this reading strategy, but you may also be looking for a way to provide extra practice for students in a different context. Look no further!
Below are two different resources that provide students a chance to hone this skill even more.
This Illustrations and Text Center Print and Digital is a collection of short, targeted questions that provide a lot of practice for students to determine how illustrations can enhance comprehension of a text.
If you are looking for a digital option, this Illustrations and Text Digital Reading for Google Slides is a digital reading activity that includes questions that can be answered or supported by the illustrations, as well as vocabulary and comprehension questions.
Both of these would work great for homework, centers, or small group practice!
Interested in reading more? Check out these posts!
Character Traits & Story Events: How to Help Students Discover Meaningful Connections
Point of View: Why It’s Tricky, Why It Matters, and How to Help Students Understand
Central Message Made Easy: 3 Valuable Tips to Help Students Get It